The Hindu festival of Dashera takes place in October in which 10-headed effigies of King Ravana are set alight to celebrate the victory of good over evil.
This footage was recorded from Dashera celebrations in Leicester. The event took place at a local recreational playing field (at Cossington Street) – with almost a quarter of the field cordoned off for the 25ft high effigy of King Ravana. The event included talks from local dignitaries and dancing (unfortunately not from the dignitaries) before the the effigy was set alight to a background of colourful fireworks.
The site was too small for the 4000 people that attended. People at the front of the barriers were in a good position to see the burning, but unfortunately everyone wanted their own children to also be at the front. This resulted in a lot of pushing and squashing of tiny children and even some of the larger, tougher adults. Although it has been held at Cossington Street for 20 years, it may be better to situate the event in Abbey Park, which would provide good viewing points with its softly undulating grounds.
There is no admission charge (which could be difficult to justify as Dashera is a religous festival), but the popular event appears to be severely under funded. The stage was of the smaller variety that the City Council uses (a fraction of the size of the one that is used for Humberstone Gate events), which meant that it was difficult to see anything on the stage unless you were of an equal height to the effigy. There were also only four businesses operating on site (an ice-cream van, a candy floss stall, an inflatable slide and a childs fairground ride), which couldn’t have generated that much revenue for the Council.
In all fairness, Leicester City Council actually does a great job of hosting some of the many annual festivals – religous or otherwise. For example, Diwali, which is known as the Festival of Lights, is an important five-day festival in Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism. Diwali celebrations – including the switching on of the festival lights along Belgrave Road have took place every year for the last 27 years (on October 24th during 2010). The display features more than 1,000 metres of lighting and 6,500 bulbs and 35,000 people on average attend the celebrations. Music and more fireworks will accompany Diwali Day on Friday, November 5th 2010. These celebrations must incur a considerable cost to the generous local Council.
Returning to the actual festival in question, Navarati is a 9-night festival which is celebrated in 3 stages, after which Dashera takes place. The time of the festival varies from year to year as it is set by the lunar calender. Details of the festivals and the reasons for celebrating it also vary, but this is due to regional variations and evolution of the story over time.
Navarati is thought to signify the progress of a spiritual aspirant. During this spiritual journey, the aspirant has to pass three stages personified by Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. Then, he or she enters into the realm of the infinite, wherein one realises one’s Self.
Each stage lasts for three nights. The first stage of Navarati is dedicated to worshipping the goddess Devi who is separated as a spiritual force called Durga (also known as Kali) in order to destroy each individuals impurities. It is at this stage that some devotees fast and prayers are offered for health and prosperity. The second stage is dedicated to worshipping the goddess Lakshmi, who is considered to have the power of bestowing on her devotees inexhaustable spiritual and material wealth. The third stage is spent worshipping the goddess of wisdom – Saraswati.
In order to have all round success in life, believers seek the blessings of all three aspects of the divine femininity, hence the 9 nights of worship. Rama was thought to have prepared for 9 nights in order to secure his victory over Ravana.
The tenth day on which Dashera is celebrated is the culmination of this worship and is also viewed as the most important period in the festival. It commemorates the story of the battle between Lord Rama and the demon King Ravana, and the victory of good over evil.
Various suggestions exists as to why Ravana is depicted with 10 heads. Those who believe that Ravana is good suggest that this is a reference to him possessing a very thorough knowledge over the 4 Vedas and 6 Upanishads, which made him as powerful as 10 scholars. Other explanations include that after his spiritual training and collection of knowledge, Ravana chopped off his own head 10 times as an intense penance to the creator God Brahma. Each time he sliced his head off, a new head arose enabling him to continue his penance. Some people also suggest that Ravana is guided by all of his 10 heads and does not have control over the five senses and five bodily instruments of action. The same group also suggest that Rama, on the contrary, is always in full control of his faculties.
In classic text (Arānyakanda – sargas 16-17), Ravana is mainly depicted negatively, kidnapping Lord Rama’s wife Sita, to claim vengeance on Rama and his brother Lakshmana for having cut off the nose of Ravana’s sister Surpanakha. Rama obviously responded by killing (the evil) Ravana.